Choosing a finish to show off figured cherry


New member
So this is my second question about the slant front desk. I'm posting them separately, since they are different topics, I hope that's ok.
What finish should I use so the figured cherry stands out? I just refinished a mahogany and curly maple piece with water soluble wood dye, BLO and shellac and it came out pretty good:
Since this desk is from the 1790's-1810 (based on the brasses and what looks like type A cut nails), I believe that means it predates shellac use in the US? Should I go with something traditional, if so, what; or should I use the BLO and shellac finish? This is the piece that I am working on now. unstripped:  partially stripped:  and

Thanks again for your help!

  You won't go wrong, IMO, with BLO and shellac.  Although, a recent post in the finishing section argues that BLO does nothing above what shellac can do to "pop" the figure (at least with tiger maple).

  I attached a photo of a curly cherry Bible box I recently made which was finished with BLO and shellac alone.  I think the curl was brought out as good as it could be with this finish.

  --Wm. Brown
      Forest, VA


  • DSC01647.JPG
    6 KB · Views: 124
1790's pre-dates shellac in the US? I've never heard this before (have never looked into either). Is this an accurate statement? What finish was used? I have heard of beeswax as the only finish used on 1600's pieces but I though shellac was available even then. Earlier periods I know nothing about, but haven't paid much attention to either.

A quick look on wikipedia states shellac has been around for 3000 years, (, why wouldn't it have been available in the US?
I thought I read, Shellac was not purchased by US merchants until the 1820's or there abouts. Shellac has be around along time, but since it came from British controlled areas of Asia, it was expensive and the British weren't to keen on selling it to us at that point. I'll try to find the source of this information. (misinformation?)

I did a quick google search, and found this: scroll down to "shellac". Since its published on the internet, it must be true! (I hope I don't have to say "just kidding"). If I find the a actual source of this information, I'll be sure to post it. Full disclaimer, I am very much an amateur, so please take what I say with a grain of salt.